I live about 40 miles away from Stockport; a town in Greater Manchester which was once the centre of the country's hatting industry. By 1884 the town was exporting more than six million hats a year, but the last hat works closed little more than a century later.
In April 2000 Hat Works, the only millinery museum in the UK, opened in a restored mill. As well as an extensive collection of hats and headwear the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and has live demonstrations of working machinery. It also runs millinery courses and yesterday I went on my first course there, on sinamay.
Although I’ve seen hats and fascinators made from sinamay, I didn’t know what it was. It is made from the fibres of the banana palm, which are processed and then woven into a fabric which can then be dyed and stiffened, and shaped with steam.
|Different colours and weaves of sinamay
As well as examples of the different types of sinamay, the tutors Marie and Sue also brought along examples of trimmings which can be made from sinamay; ‘feathers’, curls, leaves and bows, to name just a few.
|Some of the trims you can make . . .
|. . . and some more
The idea of the workshop was for us each to make whatever sort of head piece we wanted and just to have a play with sinamay and see what it could do. Not being a fan of the a-bird-flew-into-my-head-and-exploded look (thanks to Aisha for the memorable description) I knew that I didn’t want to make any sort of feathery fascinator. I do however love The Girl With The Star-Spangled Heart’s style, and especially her hats, so decided to go for a small, 1950s style hat instead.
We were each given a piece of sinamay to work with, and started off by finding the bias, and cutting off a bias strip.
|Cutting the bias strip
Then we experimented with cutting out shapes from paper until we got something we were happy with for our hats. This took a bit of imagination, to see the flat paper as a curved headpiece. I started off with a symmetrical shape, but decided that I preferred asymmetry, and ended up with something like a large comma. We cut our shape out three times, varying the grainline each time so that the end result would have a more dense appearance.
|The initial shapes
Then we pressed the three pieces together. Because mine was quite large, I secured it with a few pins as well.
|Fused together, darker and more dense
The bias strip was folded to make bias binding, just as you would do with fabric. Then this was wrapped round the shape and pinned into place.
|Pinning on the binding
The binding was sewn on with small, angled stab stitches.
|Ready to sew
Then came the magic bit! Holding the sinamay over the steamer made it pliable, and it could easily be shaped over the hat block. Once it cooled, it stiffened again.
|Looking more hat-shaped
Once we had made our bases, it was time to play with making trims. It was amazing to watch just what different ideas the eight of us came up with for both the initial shape and the trimmings. I was going for a vintage look, so knew that I didn’t want anything which stuck out from the hat too much. I wrapped a further bias strip round the stand of a hat block, and steamed it to make a coil, which I then sewed together like quilling. None of the other trims I made were quite what I wanted for the hat, but they’ll be put to good use in the future – I already have plans for several other hats!
The one regret of the day was that I only had time for a very quick look round the museum and the temporary exhibition before it closed.
|Display of contemporary hats
|One of the information boards
|Display of historical hats
|From the temporary exhibition 'Making Headway'
A quick trip to my local fabric shop today (any excuse!) turned up the perfect trim, made from folded grosgrain ribbon.
|Right and wrong sides of the ribbon trim
I sewed this round the front of the brim, and covered one end with my quilled coil. I’d noticed that a number of small 1950s hats seemed to have beading on them, so I made a small beaded motif out of bits from my stash, and attached this to the other end. Then all that was needed was to attach the elastic which the tutors provided yesterday and voilà, my very own hat.
|The finished hat
(Apologies for the not remotely period-appropriate outfit to go with the hat. When I came to take the pictures it looked as though the heavens were about to open, so it was a case of grab whatever came to hand, and add a brooch!)
|I must admit, it doesn't look much from the front
|Definitely better from the side
|Showing off the sinamay quilling
|The back view really shows off the shaping
I’m absolutely thrilled with the end result. A massive thank you to the tutors Sue Carter and Marie Thornton for such an enjoyable day, and I’m really looking forward to going back to Hat Works and learning some more. Watch this space!